105 U.S. 97 (____)


Supreme Court of United States.

Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

The Solicitor-General for the United States.

Mr. Enoch Totten and Mr. James Lowndes for the appellee.

MR. JUSTICE WOODS, after stating the facts, delivered the opinion of the court.

The statute and the finding of the Court of Claims leave little room for controversy. The law as it stood when the travel was performed was explicit, and is not open to construction. We find in it no warrant for the distinction made by the accounting officers of the treasury between travel by sea and travel on land within the United States, performed by an officer of the navy while engaged on public business. To hold that for one class of travel he should have eight cents per mile, and for the other his actual expenses, is to make the law and not to construe it. When this travel was performed there was not a line on the statute-book of the United States which made any provision whatever, under any circumstances, for allowing officers of the navy, when engaged on the public business, their actual expenses of travel. The only law ever enacted which made such provision had been expressly repealed by the act on which the appellee based his claim for mileage. This act declared him entitled, without condition or limitation, to mileage at the rate of eight cents per mile, and is the only law upon the subject.

Our duty is to read the statute according to the natural and obvious import of the language, without resorting to subtle and forced construction for the purpose of either limiting or extending its operation. Waller v. Harris, 20 Wend. (N.Y.) 561; Pott v. Arthur, 104 U.S. 735. When the language is plain, we have no right to insert words and phrases, so as to incorporate in the statute a new and distinct provision.

The attempt to justify the decision of the accounting officers of the treasury is based on an alleged practice in conformity therewith, which, it is said, grew up in the Navy Department under the act of 1835. The practice, if such there was, finds no higher warrant or sanction in the act of 1835 than in the act of 1876. But even if it could have any influence in settling the meaning of an act passed forty-one years afterwards, under changed circumstances and conditions, we find no reference to it in either the findings or the opinion of the Court of Claims, and we cannot assume that it ever existed.

The law on which the appellee bases his case is plain and unambiguous. We must give it its natural and obvious meaning, and thus interpreted it leaves the appellant no ground to stand on.

Judgment affirmed.


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